I get asked this question a lot. Anyone who’s had a project published can tell you that the road is different for pretty much every person who tries to get something they’ve written into print. So now you’re thinking, so why did you start this conversation? I definitely don’t think there’s any one path to being published, but I do think there are some constants of that path that might help you get to where you want to go if your goal is to have a book published.
- Write. This may seem like a no-brainer, but I’ve been surprised how many people want to write a book, have the book in their head, plan out the chapters, or even have a detailed synopsis and never write the book. Writing takes practice, lots of it. So if you want to be published, you have to write. (Come on, you know you want to!)
- Research. I realized pretty soon after I started writing my first (unpublished) novel, that no matter how much fun I was having, writing a book was way too much work–for me–to do just for fun. So I started researching what publishing companies would be interested in a book like mine. There are market guides, there are magazines like Writer’s Digest and Publisher’s Weekly. Most publishers’ websites have submission guidelines available. My suggestion would be to spend time learning about the market while you are learning to write. Then when you are ready to submit your manuscript, you will know what to do.
- Join. Writing is not something most people can do in a vacuum. Left to our own devices, we think everything we write is either brilliant or awful. It’s really important to find other writers to join with and learn together. There are all kinds of organizations for writers. From the RWA, to the ACFW, to the ITW and MWA, to SFWA to hundreds of small local writers’ groups around the country, you will find something that appeals to you and can help you improve. If you live too far away or can’t afford to join right now (where I was when I started writing), there are plenty of online groups. The internet makes the writing world a much more intimate and fun place! Just as an example, I met both of my critique partners, now good friends, online–we live coast to coast.
- Network. Attend conferences if you can. Frequent message boards and blogs where writers and agents hang out. Many publishing companies are using Twitter, as are agents and editors. Follow them. Learn. Check out agent blogs. ( kidlit.com, Query Shark, Nathan Bransford, Rachelle Gardner, just for starters)
- Submit. You might start with contests to get your feet wet, get some feedback and make some contacts with editors. But when you think your manuscript is ready, you should begin sending it agents and/or to advance-paying, royalty-paying publishers. You will know who these are because you will have done your research. (There is some leeway here because of the ebook market, but as a rule, the money should flow to the author.) If you are like the majority of working writers, you will have to repeat the steps several times, which brings me to the last point…
- Don’t give up. A writer who is published is one who didn’t give up. I wrote for six years before the right manuscript landed on the right editor’s desk at the right time. You might also want to check out this list of famous rejectees at Inkygirl.
Keep writing, keep learning, keep submitting. It’s good practice, because once you’re published, you still keep writing, keep learning and keep submitting.